Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Return of the Rooster

Maverick blues label is back in business

By Ron Wynn

JUNE 19, 2000:  One of America's most distinctive record labels has relocated and resurfaced with a vengeance. After a one-year hiatus, Rooster Blues, a company dedicated to chronicling vintage Mississippi and Delta region sounds, is back in business. It's also currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.

"We're very aware of the tradition and history of the label, and are happy that Rooster's alive again," says company publicist Andria Lisle. "Rooster has very ambitious plans over the next few months, and we're going to be putting out both classic reissues and great new material."

Though it began in Chicago, Rooster was best known for being situated in Clarksdale, Miss., through much of its existence. The company suspended operation in 1998; it was purchased last year by Bottled Majic Music, a corporation dedicated to preserving and chronicling various types of vintage American sounds. It now has two offices, one in New York, the other in Memphis. Midwest businessman Robert Johnson (no relation to the legendary Delta blues musician) is the principal owner.

The first four releases in the current campaign are already available. These include an anthology titled Year of the Rooster, with performances ranging from familiar names like Eddy Clearwater and Big Jack Johnson to traditional blues sensation James Louis Johnson (a.k.a. Super Chikan), plus lesser-known but important figures like Eddie C. Campbell, Roosevelt "Pooba" Barnes, and Larry Davis. This disc profiles the company from its Chicago beginnings up through some of its 1997 releases.

Among the other current Rooster discs are a reissue of Magic Slim & the Teardrops' 1983 gem Grand Slam, plus Midnight Delight featuring Lonnie Shields and Super Chikan's critically praised 1997 debut, Blues Come Home to Roost. The Chikan date compiles 14 original compositions recorded in Clarksdale. Unfortunately, the CD didn't get widespread distribution upon initial release, and thus many fans missed it despite almost unanimous critical raves. Chikan, who recently appeared locally at the French Quarter Cafe, is not only a rousing writer and player, he also rivals Bobby Rush as a ribald narrator. His "strut" alone is often worth the price of admission.

Shields, a slashing guitarist from Helena, Ark., with roots in both gospel and funk, previously earned his stripes working with Sam Carr, Big Jack Johnson, and Frank Frost. He's part of the new breed among traditional blues types; though knowledgeable and reverent of the music's history, he isn't content simply to cover and recycle classics. His '92 CD Portrait won the Living Blues Critics Award, and his songs simmer and churn, hooking listeners with their urgency and immediacy.

Magic Slim won a 1983 Handy Award for Grand Slam, the album that signaled his ascension from the ranks of promising stylist into a stellar soloist and entertainer able to hold his own alongside anyone. The reissued version of Grand Slam also includes three additional cuts from a 1975 session that were previously unavailable on CD.

Jim O'Neal, the cofounder of both Rooster Records and Living Blues magazine, will continue working with the label cutting sessions. "We definitely wanted to keep Jim working in the field," Lisle says. "He feels there's plenty of talent in the region that hasn't been recorded or noticed, and he's excited about Rooster's future."

Lisle says the label plans to issue 15 discs this year, both new sessions and reissues. Rooster releases are now distributed by Redeye Distribution. Fans can contact the label directly at www.bottledmajic.com, or at P.O. Box 40997, Memphis, TN 38174-0997.

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